This week we were introduced to Leopold Bloom, who ostensibly is the main character of Ulysses, and followed him through Episodes four (Calypso) and five (Lotus Eaters).
Bloom is quite different from Stephen Dedalus in his looks (Bloom is tall and in his late 30s, as opposed to Stephen's early 20s and shorter stature), and in the way he thinks (Bloom focuses more on things in the world, outside of himself, while Stephen is more internally focused and intellectual). Where Stephen is the brain, Bloom is the body. Indeed, these two episodes which focus on Bloom are very bawdy, detailing his thoughts of masturbation and his prolonged act of defecation and urination.
As with everything else we've read so far, the plot is thin (there is really very little action in the book) but there are layers upon layers of dense text describing and illustrating the characters' internal thoughts. Here's a quick and dirty summary of Episode 4: Leopold Bloom goes out to buy a mutton kidney for breakfast from the meat shop, comes home, prepares breakfast-in-bed for his wife, Molly, gives her a letter delivered from their daughter, Milly, who's just turned 15, and a card from Molly's manager (she's a singer), goes downstairs again to eat his breakfast while reading his own letter from his daughter at the kitchen table, then goes to the outhouse to have a long, leisurely poop and wipes himself with a page torn from the magazine he was reading. And in Episode 5: Bloom walks to the postoffice where he meets a guy he sort of knows and makes small talk with him, gets a letter from a woman he's never met but with whom he's having a sort of epistolary affair, tears up the letter, letting the pieces scatter to the wind, goes to sit in on a Catholic church service, then goes to a drug store to get a prescription filled for Molly, then runs into another guy on the street with whom he again makes small talk.
Joyce's writing of Bloom is very sensual, with a lot of imagery of food and scents and animal movement and sounds. Bloom himself is animalistic in some ways, with eyelids that close halfway "as he walked in happy warmth" (p. 55). Bloom is also very sexual, noticing women wherever he goes; their hips, their legs, their lips. He notices his wife Milly's ample bosom when she sits up in bed to read her letter from her daughter, and he thinks of his daughter's "ripening" body and vain attitude as she is just becoming interested in the opposite sex. There is also a lot of text in this episode devoted to the discussion between Molly and Bloom of metempsychosis, or reincarnation, which, according to our group host, is a major theme throughout Ulysses.
Episode 5, or The Lotus Eaters, is layered with flower imagery (playing off Bloom's pseudonym, Henry Flower), as well as themes and imagery of sedatives, hinted at with reference to the sedating effect of the Catholic church on unthinking followers, and references to actual drugs, as in "Overdose of laudanum. Sleeping draughts. ... (p. 81)." This chapter, as with the previous, is filled with bodily imagery, euphemisms, and layers of Bloom's thoughts, often written as sentence fragments.
A question in my mind now, after it was brought up in group discussion that Bloom seems overly (perhaps inappropriately) aware of his teenage daughter's budding sexuality, is whether this book had any influence on Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, which is a novel about the sexual relationship between a (step) father and his obsession with his pre-pubescent step-daughter. Bloom seems a bit too preoccupied, when reading his daughter Milly's letter, with thoughts of her body and sexuality and potential relationships with boys, which makes me wonder, was Nabokov inspired to create Humbert Humbert from his reading of Leopold Bloom?
On another note, I'm seriously expanding my vocabulary in reading this book. Here are a few gems:
gelid = extremely cold, icy (pronounced "jellid")
jakes = an outhouse (pronounced like "jacks")
scut = the short tail of a deer, rabbit or hare
Next week we're on to the next two episodes: six (Hades) and seven (Aeolus).